Maintaining quality in a changing world of work

Jun 02, 2020
Although the weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be challenging, quality should not be compromised argues Fiona Kirwan.

Full-year and interim year reporting deadlines are fast approaching for accountants both in industry and practice. Companies’ financial reporting functions and their auditors are getting used to working in ‘new normal’ circumstances. However, these changed circumstances must not compromise the quality of the work we all deliver day-to-day.

Here are some issues Chartered Accountants should consider as they seek to maintain the highest level of quality in all aspects of their work.

People

COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and work. We have heard this phrase a lot in recent weeks, but it remains true. Almost instantly, employees who are used to the rhythm of the workplace became remote workers – many without the chance to prepare adequately. This creates challenges for managers of both finance and audit teams in leading teams remotely.

It is more challenging to coach and supervise people who are not physically in the same location. It is therefore important to stay in touch and stay close to your people. Connecting as a community during this time takes imagination. It could mean developing new channels or social tools for employees to share stories; it could mean embracing video calls to create a sense of physical presence. Virtual social events are becoming the norm. Even small investments in building a genuine community can have a significant impact on your employees’ morale.

This sense of community helps when coaching teams. People who are closely aligned on a personal level will find it easier to communicate complex information simply and team members will feel more comfortable asking questions and querying essential messages. Teams must be aware that some colleagues may not have optimal ‘work from home’ environments; some are juggling home-schooling with office hours; others are working from their bedrooms in shared living spaces. Organisations should implement flexible working structures to allow teams to deliver quality work while maintaining processes to ensure confidentiality and transparency. Such flexible working structures mean that everyone in the financial reporting process, both finance teams and auditors, must allow extra time to execute tasks remotely.

Technology

Almost all finance functions and accounting firms transitioned to remote working arrangements overnight, and the quality of an organisation’s technology is critical to day-to-day operations and ensuring business continuity in this scenario. Some organisations may have challenges arising from the fact that their teams are heavily reliant on desktop computers, second screens, or printing facilities that are not available in the home environment. The move to remote working could also leave team members isolated, but this is where the ability to host video conferences, share screens, and collaborate in files in real-time has become vital.

Not only do these technical solutions allow teams to communicate internally, they have also become critical channels for communication between auditors and their clients. At PwC, we utilise our combined suite of audit tools – Connect, Aura and Halo – to communicate with our clients and colleagues across the globe. We also use Google’s G-Suite of collaboration tools, and Datashare to help us work with the data of clients with less complex IT systems. The recent uptake in the adoption of these technologies has seamlessly transitioned a lot of this work, which was historically done in person, into the digital realm. 

Controls

One area where the successful application of technology solutions has become essential is the implementation of internal controls over financial reporting. The appropriate tone from the top is vital; managers need to remind people that remote working might change how controls work, but it does not lower the bar.

How companies operate their controls has been amended to allow for remote working. For example, a manual sign-off may now be replaced with a confirmation by email. In these uncertain times, companies will want to ensure that shortcuts are not being taken and rigour – both in procedures and the provision of appropriate evidence to support the implementation of controls – are maintained. Auditors will need to consider whether the controls, as they currently operate, remain fit for purpose and any increased risks that may have arisen from recent changes.

Financial reporting

The COVID-19 outbreak, and the measures taken to mitigate its impact, are having a significant effect on economic activity. This, in turn, has implications for financial reporting. Companies and auditors must work together to ensure that quality is not compromised – even in challenging circumstances.

The following is a sample of the wide range of accounting issues that companies and auditors have considered in recent weeks:

  • Going concern and viability statement: companies must assess going concern at each annual and interim reporting period, with a look-forward period of one year from the financial statement issuance date. Companies impacted by COVID-19 have had to update their forecasts and provide appropriate disclosures to alert investors about the underlying financial impact and management’s plans to address it, including if conditions give rise to uncertainties about the company’s ability to continue to operate;
  • Subsequent events: the consensus is that COVID-19 was a non-adjusting post-balance sheet event for 31 December 2019 reporting. However, the appropriate disclosure of impact on the overall financial statements is a critical element of the financial statements;
  • Measurements of assets: for year-end reporting and interim statements after December 2019, companies and auditors must assess the timing of COVID-19-related events to determine the impact on assets, including goodwill and indefinite life intangible assets, inventories, and deferred tax assets. Companies and their auditors must consider disruptions to the entity’s business or the broader market in determining recoverable amounts of assets. Careful consideration must be given to the net realisable value of inventory and, in the event of a price decline, whether prices will recover before the inventory is sold;
  • Revenue recognition and receivables: identify the appropriate sales price given increases in expected returns, additional price concessions, or changes in volume discounts. Companies and auditors should be mindful that revenue can only be recognised for new sales if payment is probable under IFRS 15;
  • Alternative performance measures: the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has provided guidance relating to the use of Alternative Performance Measures (APMs) in the context of COVID-19. Consistent with previous guidance relating to the maintenance of consistency of APMs from one reporting period to another, ESMA advises that rather than adjusting existing APMs or including new APMs, issuers should improve their disclosures and include narrative information in their communication documents to explain how COVID-19 impacted and/or is expected to impact on their operations and performance; the level of uncertainty; and the measures adopted – or expected to be adopted – to address the COVID-19 outbreak; and
  • Internal consultations and reviews: audit teams face significant additional internal consultations and reviews in the current environment. Early agreement on timetables and collaborations between companies and auditors will ensure that quality is not compromised.
As events continue to unfold, the challenges faced by accountants both in industry and practice are mounting. The weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be challenging. However, quality should not be compromised. Supporting our colleagues and utilising our technology capabilities will ensure that control frameworks continue to operate, financial reporting will be clear and transparent for all users, and audit quality will not be compromised.

Fiona Kirwan is a Director at PwC’s Assurance Practice.